Apart from specialities such as Vinh oranges and eel vermicelli soup, Nghệ An Province is also famous for its bánh mướt (rice roll) cake thanks to its unique flavour.
Different from rice rolls in the north, bánh mướt is made of a special rice variety named Vê in the province's Quỳnh Lưu District and can be eaten with beef soup or chicken soup, but local people prefer it with pig's tripe.
Nguyễn Thị Nguyệt, 60, recently returned to the province from Germany and said she always missed the dish while living abroad for almost 40 years.
"I still remember the tastiest and delicious dish made by makers in Quy Chính Village of Nghệ An’s Diễn Châu District,” she said, adding that her home was one kilometre from the Sò Market where her mother often bought the dish home.
"The image of my mother returning home bringing us the cake wrapped in fresh banana leaves always moved me," Nguyệt said, adding that she loved to dip the dish in a bowl of fish sauce mixed with a bit of lemon juice, minced garlic and chilli.
Phan Thị Hằng, 70, who has been making the cake with her mother since she was young, said her mother's cake was the best seller in the district for years.
But one day many eaters commented that her cake was sourer than before.
Hằng's mother was very worried and tried to find out what had happened.
"Seeing her stressing all day long, I was very afraid but bravely tried to confess to her in tears that I poured several bowls of congee in the wet rice powder," she said, adding that her mother simply asked her not to do it again.
"We should always be careful to try to keep our dish's quality and prestige among customers," her mother said.
The ingredients to make the cake should be carefully chosen. In the past, they bought Vê rice from Quỳnh Lưu District which was fragrant and kept the cake crispy.
But as the rice variety no longer exists due to low productivity, bánh mướt makers have to use rice named Khang Dân which is not too soft and not too hard, Hằng said, adding that other ingredients include fresh and dried onions, chilli and pig's tripe, which should be fresh, pink and from a pig raised without the use of chemicals.
To have a quality cake the rice should be soaked in water for three hours before grinding it into wet powder which should soak for another three hours before being cooked.
Making the cake needs skills to stop it from becoming too thin or too thick. After the cake is done to a turn, the cooker uses a big flat bamboo chopstick to take the cake out of the cooking pot, roll it well and put it on fresh banana leaves in a flat basket, said Hằng.
"We have to wake up at 4am to make the cake until 5 or 5:30am then we bring it to the market to serve our customers," she said, noting that her cakes sell out by 7am.
Hằng recalled in the past they had to grind the wet powder in a stone mortar. "It took us nearly five hours at night to grind 20kg of rice. Sometimes we had to work until 2am the next day."
In modern times with electricity available, their job is easier but Hằng said every year she has only three days off at Tết (Lunar New Year).
"During the last days before the Lunar New Year comes, we have to work very hard to supply increasing demands because we receive a lot of orders from locals and people from surrounding areas. They buy the cake to eat at Tết instead of bánh chưng (square cake)," Hằng said.
Lê Thu Thủy comes from Nghệ An and lives in Hà Nội and said she has been addicted to bánh mướt since she was a little girl so she often orders the cake from Hằng to enjoy it.
"My family members, relatives and friends also enjoy the dish so much," she said.
Overseas Vietnamese Nguyệt told Việt Nam News that almost all Nghệ An people living and working abroad fondly remember their year-end parties with family members.
"We particularly miss the dish eaten with pig's tripe soup so much,” she said. — VNS
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